Marcus Smart on Celtics: 'We really, really, really, really have a chance this year'

Marcus Smart on Celtics: 'We really, really, really, really have a chance this year'

The Boston Celtics are coming out of the All-Star break with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. They continue to have great chemistry and are starting to get healthier, and it seems likely that they will be contenders during the NBA postseason.

In fact, one Celtic thinks that this team is a bigger contender than any other Celtics team he has played for.

That would be Marcus Smart. The rugged defensive playmaker and sparkplug opened up and gave his thoughts on the team in a recent interview and communicated that he truly believes that the C's have a chance to go all the way this year.

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“(Other teams were) potential contenders, but not as much of a contender as this team is," Smart said to MassLive's Tom Westerholm. “I’ve had some where we thought, ‘Maybe we can go.’ That run that we had with Isaiah Thomas, we thought we were a pretty good team, even the two years ago team where we made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but this year is just a different feeling. We really got that sense of ‘We really, really, really, really have a chance this year,’ and it’s very evident to us. I think it’s starting to be evident to people around the league, and it’s evident to fans around the league.”

This is a pretty important statement considering that it's coming from Smart. After all, the sixth-year pro is the longest-tenured Celtic, so he would know better than anyone else how competitive this year's Celtics are.

And Smart does have a point. The Celtics have the third-best point differential in the NBA with a mark of plus-6.9. That trails only the Los Angeles Lakers (plus-7.4) and Milwaukee Bucks (plus-12.1), two teams that are considered to be big-time title favorites this season.

And though the C's are so highly ranked, they have been plagued with injury troubles throughout the season that have seen key players like Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Gordon Hayward miss time. Robert Williams has also missed 33 games and will provide needed depth at center when he returns. So, if they can get and stay healthy, the sky is the limit for them.

We'll see how much the Celtics can do come the postseason and if they can really be contenders. But as it stands, it seems that they are poised to be much more competitive than the team was last year at the very least.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.

Celtics star Jayson Tatum could be 'the guy' in the NBA, says ex-teammate

Celtics star Jayson Tatum could be 'the guy' in the NBA, says ex-teammate

Jayson Tatum is making the leap to the upper echelon of NBA stars during his third season with the Boston Celtics.

The 22-year-old forward made his first NBA All-Star Game appearance, he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for February and he has established himself as the team's best player.

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One of Tatum's teammates during his rookie season was Shane Larkin, who spent this past season excelling for Turkish team Anadolu Efes in the EuroLeague. Larkin knew early on the special kind of talent Tatum possessed, and he preached a message of patience to Boston's young star.

"It's unreal," Larkin said on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast. "I talk to JT all the time, and it's funny, I just saw him do that podcast, 'All the Smoke', and he was talking about that stuff with Phoenix, when he went out there, and he was like, 'Phoenix is where I want to be.' I remember having conversations with him his rookie year and I was like, 'Bro, just be patient.' He was so talented, he wanted to get out there and immediately be who he wanted to be, and I'm like, 'You're 19 years old, bro, just be patient, relax, you're time is going to come and you're going to be one of the top guys in this league.' I've been saying that for years, and now you see what he's been doing. Sometimes it takes guys a year or two years to finally get that opportunity to be who they're going to be. This year was his time, and he took it and ran with it. Now, he's well on his way to being one of the best players in this league, for sure."

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If the 2019-20 regular season does not continue, Tatum will have averaged career highs with 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, while also shooting 44.8 percent from the floor and 39.8 percent on 3-point shots.

How high is ceiling's Tatum, according to Larkin? Could he actually become the best player in the league?

"I don't see any reason why he can't be 'the guy' in the league. He has every single ability that he needs to have -- he has the size, he has the length, he has the IQ," Larkin said. "He can defend, he competes. He's so young, and he has so much potential that there's no reason why he can't be, and he shouldn't settle for anything less. 

"The great thing about JT is I think he has that mentality. I think you saw that his rookie year. He came in with that mentality -- he was patient, he didn't force it. He was very efficient as a rookie. He gained more responsibility and took it in stride. He's just met every single challenge head on, and he's been doing great. I'm happy for him."

The Celtics will be in the playoffs if the current season resumes, and even though Boston has a deep and very talented roster, the team's postseason run likely would only go as far as Tatum takes it.

Shane Larkin's lone season with Celtics "huge step" toward EuroLeague superstardom

Shane Larkin's lone season with Celtics "huge step" toward EuroLeague superstardom

BOSTON -- While Shane Larkin appeared in 54 games (two starts) with the Boston Celtics, playing time wasn’t nearly as plentiful as he would have wanted. 

But like most of the players who have come through town since head coach Brad Stevens’ arrival in 2013, Larkin left on good terms. 

And some of the lessons learned during his time in Boston, Larkin credits for being instrumental in his growth and development into arguably the best player in EuroLeague play this past season. 

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“Overall, I became a much better basketball player, playing in Boston,” Larkin said on the Celtics Talk Podcast. “Just the way I saw the game, the way I read the game.”

While playing with Turkey’s Anadolu Efes, Larkin led the team to a EuroLeague-best record while averaging 22.2 points on 53.0 percent shooting from the field, 50.9 percent shooting on 3’s, along with making 90.3 percent of his free throws. 

As a Celtic, Larkin acknowledged having a familiar face also helped his acclimation process. 

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Larkin had an established relationship with Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga, whose father Jim Larranaga was Larkin’s head coach at the University of Miami. 

In Boston, Jay Larranaga was the Celtics’ assistant coach who Larkin spent the most time working with on his shooting and various ball-handling skills. 

On those nights when Larkin would not get into games or play limited minutes, he was back in the gym the following day with Larranaga, focused on improving his all-around game to best ensure when his opportunity to play arrived that he would indeed be ready. 

“That year, on the court and off the court, mentally, physically, I just took a huge step in my development as a man, as a player,” Larkin said. “And it has really helped me get to where I am today.

Larkin added, “Boston has a great thing, a great setup right now. And if you’re lucky enough to be a Celtic at this current time, you’re definitely going to come out of there in much better shape than you went in.”